India cable stats “not transparent”

The under-reporting of subscriber numbers has long been a scandal in many countries, and costs programmers – and rights owners – a fortune in lost revenues. Now, India’s regulator (TRAI) has reminded cable operators, both Multiple System Operators and the nation’s smaller local operators (LCOs) that TRAI is going to get tough.

The current obligations are not new having been in place since 2012 and require cable operators to issue bills to clients within 45 days of the end of a month, and to ensure that clients receive the bill and associated receipt. MSOs must also, as an obligation, offer pre-paid and post-paid options.

TRAI admits that the absence of proper billing and accounting routines means “there is a distinct possibility of loss of revenue accruable to government” and, by implication, to the rights holder.

TRAI is also threatening more snap visits by its own staff to inspect head-end and subscriber management systems. Previous visits threw up various non-compliance issues, with some MSOs failing to offer electronic payment of monthly subs.

The regulator says that it is going to start fining MSO and LCOs who do not comply. The ‘fines’ are modest, at up to 20 Rupees per subscriber, but in a market where a typical monthly sub is barely $3 a month this is a significant percentage. A second fine of 50 Rupees will be levied on a second offence and 100 Rupees ($1.65) on each subsequent contravention. Moreover, if the MSO and LCO have somehow or other entered into an agreement to sidestep the obligation then both parties will be hit with fines.

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